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It once looked as though religion could play a central role in this election. Mitt Romney is the first Mormon in modern times to run for president and both vice presidential candidates are Roman Catholic. But many voters don’t see it that way. According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, most Americans are comfortable with what they know about the candidates’ faith. And they report their votes will have little to do with the nominee’s religion. Still, American politics is polarized by questions often connected to our religious beliefs –abortion, religious liberty, and gay marriage. But are we polarized to the point of no return? Join Diane and her guests as they discuss the role of religion in politics.
- E.J. Dionne Jr. senior fellow, Brookings Institution. Author of "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent."
- Michael Gerson syndicated columnist, author of "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era."
- Jonathan Haidt social psychologist and author of "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said Sunday that President Obama's policies compromise Judeo-Christian values. And the Obama campaign released a last minute ad touting the president's deep Christian faith. Joining me in the studio to talk about how religion has and has not influenced this year's presidential election: E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and syndicated columnist Michael Gerson.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from NPR studio in New York, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. I hope you'll join us. You are always part of the program and most especially on this Election Day. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Find us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. E.J. DIONNE JR.Good morning, Diane.
MR. MICHAEL GERSONGood morning.
MR. JONATHAN HAIDTGood morning, Diane.
REHME.J., let me start you. Break down religious support for candidates this election. What are the numbers?
JR.Well, first, if I could take one step back on that question, one of the most striking things when you look at the religious breaks in the country is that the Democratic Party is an incredibly diverse group religiously whereas the Republican Party is quite a bit more monolithic. And that creates some real challenges for the Democrats, that the Democrats get strong support among the most secular people in the country, the folks who are not part of religious institutions.
JR.Some of them think of themselves as spiritual or religious, by the way, but they are not part of formal religious structures. They also get support from the -- among the most religious people in the country who are African-Americans. I was involved with the survey with the Public Religion Research Institute where we found that on a whole series of measures, African-Americans were the most religious Americans in their belief, in their behavior.
JR.So Democrats have these two groups, and they have a lot of Latino Catholics, a lot of Latino Protestants and then some support across the board among mainline Protestant groups. The Republican Party is much more monolithically -- not entirely but much more monolithically -- Christian, which creates a certain, if you will, Election Day unity for them. I think when we're looking at the vote tonight, you will see overwhelming support for President Obama from African-Americans and Latinos.
JR.The swing groups to keep a look at will be Catholics, who always seem to vote for the winner of the election -- and I always tell my fellow Catholics that's not because the Holy Spirit particularly inspires us but because our diversity kind of matches the diversity of the country -- and also mainline Protestants, essentially non-evangelical Protestants who have become -- who have also become the swing group. Catholics are, if you were, less Democratic than they were before, and mainline Protestants are less Republican than they were before.
REHMMichael Gerson, you've been struck by how little attention Gov. Romney's Mormonism has received. Why do you think that is?
GERSONWell, you know, in this election, it's kind of the dog that didn't bark. There were a lot of predictions that Mormonism would be a huge debate in American life. It's very much an out religion. People don't know much about it. But, in fact, when you look at the polling, it hasn't gotten much attention. Only 60 percent of Americans even know that Mitt Romney is a Mormon. They don't really want more information about this. And I think this is, you know, generally a good thing.
GERSONI mean, we've had a nasty campaign that hasn't been particularly nasty about religion, an ugly campaign that has not been religiously ugly. And that says something good about the country, that kind of growth of tolerance. I'll just give you one fact. If Mitt Romney manages to win, we will have a Mormon president, a Mormon majority leader, a Catholic vice president, a Catholic speaker of the House of Representatives, a Supreme Court that's either Catholic or Jewish, all of them, in a majority Protestant country. And that is actually a very good thing about America.
REHMAnd to you, Jonathan Haidt, you've written a new book titled "The Religious (sic) Mind: Why Good...
HAIDT"The Righteous Mind."
REHM"The Righteous Mind:..." -- forgive me -- "Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion." To what extent do you believe the role of religion has become part of this campaign?
HAIDTWell, I think, as Michael pointed out, the role of Mormonism has been neutralized. But religion versus seculars, I think, is still quite important. So I'm a social psychologist, and I think a lot about groups and the amazing groupishness of our species. And religion is one of the original forms of that groupishness. Now, in the modern secular age, there are other forms and there are many people who are not religious. But there's a long history of skepticism or fear of atheist.
HAIDTI actually have a quote here from -- a famous quote from John Locke, who once said back in the 17th or 16th -- 17th century, "Promises, covenants and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all." And George H.W. Bush said something similar back when he was first running for president. When he was asked if he supported the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans, he said, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic.
HAIDTSo I think that what we're seeing is, while religion is quite important to many Americans, especially on the right, as Michael said, the particular sub-group of religion doesn't much matter. There's this great Arab proverb, me against my brother, me and my brother and cousin against the, you know, me against my brother, me and my brother against our cousin...
HAIDT...me and my brother and cousin against the stranger. And during the primaries, Mormonism was the stranger. But once it became Democrats versus Republicans, well, Mormons were welcomed.
REHMWell, given what you've all said, E.J., why do you think there are these last-minute appeals to religious groups, people of faith on both sides?
JR.Well, I think it's -- first of all, it's unfortunate that Paul Ryan chose to close the campaign by saying that President Obama would compromise Judeo-Christian values. And I just want to underscore something Michael said, which is it is remarkable that you haven't had the degree of religious division in this campaign.
JR.It is actually to the credit of Democrats in this election that they did not try to use Mormonism. I was actually worried that, you know, my side of the aisle -- I'm a liberal -- would be tempted to do this. And I'm grateful that we didn't. And I think that what was important in the primaries, just as Jonathan Haidt said -- it's a real honor, by the way, to be on with you -- the...
HAIDTThanks, E.J. Same to you.
JR.Oh, bless you. That Mormonism was important in the Republican primaries, not because anybody used it particularly explicitly but because Mitt Romney really couldn't win primaries in which a majority of the vote was cast by evangelical Christians. That's just a white evangelical Christian. That's just a fact. But when all is said and done, I feel that what Michael said is really important.
JR.This is the first time in our history where there is no white Protestant on either ticket. The only Protestant running for president is Barack Obama, an African-American. That is really a stunning fact. And I agree with Michael that this is something that we should embrace and try to draw a lesson from in terms of how we behave on these issues in the future.
REHMDo you want to add to that, Michael?
GERSONI strongly agree with that. I think that Jonathan makes a good point as well, though. We have a growing segment of this population, the nones, people that not...
JR.Spelled -- not N-U-N-S.
GERSONN-O-N-E-S, people that don't identify with any religious tradition. I think some of them used to be Protestant nones and Catholic nones, OK, but now they identify as just secular. But this is a group that's actually an important part of the Democratic coalition. It does -- right now, in the latest Gallup polling, it's going for Barack Obama, 67 percent to 26 percent.
GERSONIt creates tensions within the Democratic coalition because they have the most religious group, African-Americans, and the -- and seculars in the same coalition. It creates some tensions and difficulties. But that's an increasing part of the American political landscape that's relatively new in American life and...
GERSONAnd could I just add something quickly...
GERSON…that one of the reasons, I think, that some conflict over religion has, over the last 20 years, loomed somewhat larger in our politics than it did for the long period, I think, that really began after the Al Smith election is that two groups that were or are on the rise are at kind of different ends of this spectrum that, on the one hand, over the last 25 years, evangelical Christianity has become more important, at the same time, that a large secular group of Americans has become more important.
GERSONAnd the most conservative evangelicals and the most liberal secular people really disagree on a lot of fundamental questions. And that leads to a kind of a tough debate that doesn't happen, say, between -- now between a moderate Catholic, a moderate Protestant or a moderate Jew. I'm talking about religiously moderate. And so that does sort of frame the nature of the debate a little bit.
REHMHere's what I'm wondering, Jonathan Haidt: What is it that people of a religious faith are asking themselves when they're voting?
HAIDTWell, I don't know what they're asking themselves, but I can talk about what I think is one of their gravest fears and something that really motivates a lot of the shifting politics and coalitions we've seen since the '60s and '70s. And that is that the miracle of human society is that we can create order at all.
HAIDTAnd if you looked at traditional religions as painstaking efforts to create moral order that constrains people, that reins in their lust and selfishness and gets them to do their duty to their family, if you look at traditional religions as doing this without the help of government, and then you see modern secular society as an effort to wipe all that away and build a secular order based more on government and central law -- I mean, the metaphor that I use is, you know, I have a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old.
HAIDTAnd if the 6-year-old is building a tower really painstakingly and carefully and then the 2-year-old comes out and knocks it all down, he's mad as hell at her. And that's, I think, what we've been seeing since the '60s in particular. The fundamentalist who had avoided politics for a long time then felt alienated by the secular left, and they entered politics as a result.
REHMJonathan Haidt, he's a social psychologist, author of "The Righteous Mind."
REHMAnd here with me in the studio, E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution, Michael Gerson, he's a syndicated columnist, Jonathan Haidt, he's a social psychologist and author of "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion." Here is our first email, and apparently, a number of emails like this, "One of your speakers just asserted that the lack of attention in this election to Mormonism is a good thing. Rather than being a sign of religious tolerance, however, I'm afraid it's more that many prefer anyone white to an African-American in the White House." Michael?
GERSONWell, I think you can't deny the role of race in American history. It's one of the most consistent themes. But there are plenty of Americans who voted for Barack Obama the last time around, who were perfectly willing to do that, that are now -- have questions about whether to do that a second time around, and that's not racial.
GERSONIf you look at some of the key battlegrounds in Ohio and other places, I'm not sure they're being played out on a racial battlefield in the Appalachian foothills of Ohio. There may be an element of that, but there's class elements and religion and coal and economic discontent and a lot of other things. So I don't you can reduce this election to a kind of simplistic analysis.
JR.Well, I think several things can be true at the same time. I still think unbalanced. It's a very good thing that Romney's Mormonism has not become a central issue, and I think on the side of his opponents on the whole, there has been a small D -- emphasize that -- democratic discipline in not running a campaign against Mormonism. Maybe there is something secret out there I don't know about. But I haven't seen it.
JR.On the other hand, I think that the -- those who are writing that have a point. There is some racial animus against President Obama. We are going to be very racially polarized today. And it's funny, I was joking with a friend a few months back saying, well, there are a lot of voters who would prefer a Mormon to a Muslim because, of course, a lot of President Obama's, you know, critics say he's a secret Muslim.
JR.And a friend pulled that polling data saying, indeed, there were still a lot of voters out there who say that President Obama is a Muslim. And I think that is connected to racial feeling. So I think it's possible to say that some of the votes being cast today are motivated, in part, maybe more than in part by race. It's also possible, I think, to agree with Mike that there are plenty of voters who are honest conservatives who are just voting against Barack Obama because they disagree with him.
REHMDon't like his policies.
JR.And that's not necessarily racially connected. But, yes, racism is a stain on our country, and we've been fighting it since slaves were first brought to our shores.
REHMJonathan Haidt, how do you see the two as connected, the issue of religion and race?
HAIDTSo I think the previous speakers are right to say that it still is relevant even though they mostly disagree with the emailer, and I do, too. The way I look at it is politics is always about shifting coalitions. I mean, that's that for thousands of years. And coalitions can be based on shared values, shared interests and shared identities such as race or religion. And what we've seen over the last century is values getting ever more important especially in the last 30 or 40 years whereas identities are getting less important.
HAIDTAnd what we also see is that if you look at working-class people and the big debate about whether they -- why do they vote against their interest? Well, the research that I read suggests that values voting matters especially for the elites, for educated -- for college-educated folks. They are the ones who go with values the most. For working-class people, it's much more interests. So I think that race is playing ever less significant a role.
HAIDTAnd look, had our first black president been Colin Powell, had it been someone or -- well, he might not be so much in favor now that he's endorsed Obama. But had it been a conservative, black military man, I think the issue would've vanished because recent research in social psychology, a new paper by John Chambers, shows that much of the animosity towards African-Americans or any group is because of their values. And so the values actually trump race for most people nowadays.
JR.Could I say something very quickly, too?
JR.I think there is something very important that we've seen in the polling that we don't always like to talk about because it singles out one region of our country. But the fact is there does seem to be more voting along racial lines in the South than in other parts of the country. If you look at voting for a president across regions, whites in the South are far less likely to vote for President Obama than whites in the Northeast, the Midwest or the West. That's just a fact.
JR.And that the racial line the South has been stronger, going back a very long way. And that if President Obama wins tonight, it will be because he won a very substantial vote among white working-class voters, particularly in the Midwest and particularly in Ohio. So I think this regional difference is something we always have to take into account when we talk about race and racial reaction.
REHMMichael Gerson, your book titled "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era," how does what you've written connect to this election and what you're seeing now?
GERSONWell, in the book, me and my co-author, we talk -- Pete Wehner talk about how political divisions can be deepened by politics and made more dangerous when partisan lines become religious lines. Everything becomes a cultural battle, including economic, you know, concerns and other things. But it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes political coalitions can cross religious boundaries and actually create more understanding.
GERSONWe saw that one of the most enduring divides in American history was the Catholic-Protestant divide, which actually broke out into violence in many times in the 19th century. The growth of movements like the pro-life movement brought conservative Protestants and conservative Catholics together politically for the first time in American history. They built alliances. They built sympathy and now very much regard themselves as part of the same movement.
GERSONConservative Protestants, you know, a century ago, would've regarded the pope as the anti-Christ in many ways. Today, you know, great respect for John Paul II and the current pope, so I think politics can actually heal divisions, not just create them.
JR.Except my worry is that we have allowed -- I mean, there is some truth to what Michael said, and the same is true on the progressive side where progressive Protestants and Catholics come together around social justice issues and Jews as well. But I'm worried that we sometimes -- and this we includes everybody, including me, that we are -- claim that we have beliefs that come from our religious faith when, in fact, we're imposing partisan beliefs on our religious faith and party is actually trumping faith.
JR.There's a great C.S. Lewis line, where he talks about how many people can -- and this was a long time ago. He wrote this. Many people consult the scripture not for guidance on how to think about political questions, but they ransack it for support for their own political party. And I do think there is a lot that going on right now on all sides of politics.
REHMJonathan Haidt, you've had issues come up in this election process, which certainly stem from religious beliefs or have people reacting from their own faiths to those beliefs. For example, abortion, contraception, when life begins. Now, how does religion and the feelings about religion begin to play into those thoughts?
HAIDTGreat. That's my bread and butter as a social psychologist who studies morality, and one of the basic principles of morality is basically what E.J. just said. It's intuitions comes first, strategic reasoning second, so we look for support for what we want to believe. But another principle is morality binds and blinds, and this gets to your question, Diane. Any group of people that's organized not around their interests but around values -- so this is religions, political movements -- they treat certain things as sacred and then they circle around them.
HAIDTAnd so -- this is most obvious with religion that treats God, the Bible, the cross, Jerusalem. So you can sacralize anything, and then you circle around it. And you defend it, and you can't think straight about it. It's absolute. And so it's easy for people on the left to see that with the religious right. Oh, those crazies. They sacralize the Bible so much, they can't even believe in Darwin. God, are they dumb. Well, people on the left circle around sacred values, too. And since the '60s, that's been racial equality and women's rights, very good causes.
HAIDTBut it does make it hard to think straight. So, for example, we had -- what was so interesting for me, back in last January, we had the war on women on one side and the war on religion on the other. And to me they were just mirror images, each side defending their sacred values, overreacting to what the other side did.
HAIDTSo, you know, so if you -- you're not -- so if the Obama administration says that, you know, they have to -- organizations have to pay for birth control, well, I thought that was a terrible, terrible move. It was kind of clumsy to step on the sacred values of the right. But the left acted like, oh, my God, there's important principles at stake, not access to birth control, but having it paid for. And I think that was a foolish move, but it was a defense of sacred values on the left.
JR.First of all, I want to say a loud amen to what Jonathan just said. More than 20 years ago, I wrote a book called "Why Americans Hate Politics," where one of the things I argued is that the -- part of the problem with our politics is that it's organized around an argument over which sins we regard as worse, you know? And on the conservative side, it's sexual immorality. It's abortion, permissiveness. On the liberal side, it's racism, just, you know, a lack of concern for the poor.
JR.And on the one side, these are legitimate moral concerns. On the other side, we keep casting each other into the outer darkness of hell in our campaigns, and so we wonder why we are at each other's throats all the time. And what I appreciate about what Jonathan said is that this tendency is often more obvious among religious conservatives because they use religious language more explicitly. But I think those of us on the progressive side of politics are capable of a similar behavior on certain issues.
HAIDTThat's what political correctness is.
REHM...the issue of gay marriage, Michael Gerson?
GERSONI think that's one of the fields in which this is playing itself out...
GERSON...conflict between communities of tradition and -- that value the way things have always been and communities that elevate certain values like justice and equality. And I think, you know, as a society, the proper compromise is a genuine pluralism where we allow institutions -- the Catholic Church or other things -- to have a different set of values and approaches than the broader structures of society. And that was the real problem on the contraceptive issue.
GERSONAnd the reason, I think, there's been a real counter-reaction is not so much that the government was promoting contraception, which it does in a variety of ways, but that it was forcing other institutions to participate in this. It's a line where you've attempted to hold on the abortion issue, for example, to have legal abortion, but not force those who have conscience objections to participate. And so we try to, you know, to get around these fundamental conflicts on values with a genuine pluralism, and sometimes it breaks down.
REHMSyndicated columnist Michael Gerson. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Tell me about the idea and the ideal of religious freedom for the individual, E.J.
JR.Could I just say very quickly, on gay marriage, there is a gay marriage proposal in Maryland where I vote? And I think that the advocates of gay marriage are trying very hard now to honor the religious liberty concerns of people who are opposed to gay marriage while embracing -- you know, giving people civil rights as they see it and as I see it now. And so the gay marriage proposal in Maryland is very explicit in saying no religious institution will be forced to perform gay marriages.
JR.No religious institution will be forced to make their facilities available to celebrate gay or lesbian unions, but there shall be the right to marry. And I have always thought -- and I know Michael has some -- a certain sympathy for this even if he may be on the other side of the question -- that the best argument for gay marriage is actually the conservative argument, that if we want to promote fidelity and commitment in our society, we ought to allow people who want to make faithful -- have faithful relationships who happen to be gay or lesbian to have that opportunity.
JR.But I think the religious liberty question that you raised -- I'll just be very brief here -- it's vexed because I sometimes think that the two halves of our First Amendment create a certain conflict because we say, on the one hand, the government shall make no law, respecting the establishment of religion. On the other hand, we say government shall not interfere with the free exercise of religion.
JR.Well, sometimes what one side sees as a religious liberty, right, the other side sees as conflicting with the, we say, for shorthand, the separation of church and state. And compromising these things is very difficult. After initially taking a harder line on contraception, President Obama backed off, tried to compromise it and was met with very little support from those he was trying to compromise with. These are very hard trade-offs.
GERSONNo, I agree with that. I, you know, I think that those accommodations are being made in a variety of ways. They have been on abortion. They are in the process on gay marriage. But this contraceptive issue was, I think, an aggression in that. You had the administration, the Justice Department, in the Hosanna-Tabor decision immediately before this, arguing that there was no ministerial exception at all in the law. Then they add a really unprecedented measure to force religious institutions to pay for things that violated their conscience.
GERSONAnd their half-step back did not satisfy their opponents because it still says the federal government decides which religious institutions have full religious First Amendment protections and which get partial First Amendment protections, which is not acceptable to the bishops and others. So it is hard sometimes on these, but, you know, in that -- that is one area where I think that there was -- the aggression was on the part of the administration, violating that consensus. And that's why, I think, they had to back off.
REHMJonathan Haidt, do you want to -- sorry, Haidt -- do you want to weigh in on this?
HAIDTYes. There's a helpful psychological term here called reactance. Reactance is the anger you feel when somebody tells you you've got to do something, you can't do something, and it makes you want to do it all the more. And if you pair that...
REHMLike a 2-year-old.
HAIDTExactly. That's right. Or an 18-year-old or a...
HAIDTSo if you pair the feeling of reactance, which is a feeling felt by an individual -- now, if you put it on a group, and especially a group that sees itself as binding together to pursue sacred values, now, you've got the makings of a holy war, a holy war based on reactance. People, religious communities were mad as hell about this. And, sure, the, you know, the Obama administration backed off step by step.
HAIDTBut at that point, once you've declared war -- and I think Michael's right, it was an act of aggression, or certainly it was legitimate to perceive it as such -- it was too late. So I think, going forward, once this election is over, I think we've all got to learn a lot more about each other's sacred values, and even if we don't share them, we've got to try harder not to step on them. Otherwise, we just repeat the cycle of attack and revenge and attack and revenge.
JR.Could I just say -- I agree with that.
JR.And at the end of the show, by the way, Jonathan can give a psychological analysis of everything Michael and I have said. On the -- I came out against the administration when they came out with their initial ruling on contraception. I was critical for some of the reasons that Michael and Jonathan suggest. However, I think they didn't think that contraception was the same -- would draw the same opposition as abortion, and that's part of why this happened.
REHMShort break here. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd we'll go right to the phones as we talk about the roll of religion in politics and certainly in this particular political campaign. First to Frederick, Md. Hi there, Joel. You're on the air.
JOELI got to meet you a few years ago at Hood College when you came up during the Bush administration. And it was very informative, and I just find you to be such a lovely lady. That's an honor. It's very wonderful.
REHMThank you so much.
JOELI'm calling -- like E.J., I'm a Maryland voter here in Frederick, and you were talking about religion and race and how that ties in to politics. And this definitely extends to gay marriage. In my family, we have about eight faiths going on in my family, and a few of our family members are, you know, what would be classified as conservative Christians. And they tend to use Facebook as a platform to say things like, we are praying for all our gay friends so we can pray the gay away. And I just find this to be just another form of racism.
REHMWell, that's kind of...
JOELIt caused some problems in my family, nothing too serious. But as a response to that -- I'm straight, but I joined Equity Maryland which is a not-for-profit group that supports the right for gay marriage and transgender people. And my point today that I want to make is, of course, to vote yes on this in Maryland but also the gay members of our society are a given to be supportive of that group. What they really need are the straight people.
REHMAll right. Joel, thanks for your call. Jonathan Haidt, weigh in, if you would, on this religious attitude about homosexuality and gay marriage.
HAIDTWell, I think there are at least two components to it. There is a grain of truth, I think, in what Joel was saying in that we human beings divide the world into groups and categories. We judge people in those categories. We like them or don't like them based on various features. And so in a sense -- to a sense that there's hostility against gay people, part of it is because gay culture may be best especially back when it was first coming out in the '80s, in the '90s, seemed very different, very alien.
HAIDTSo the extent that people perceive a group is different, having different values, whether it be African-Americans or gay people, it would be much of the same psychological machinery. So I think there is some truth in what he is saying. But I think there's a lot more going on. And for what -- just what little I've read, the other guests know more about Evangelical Christianity than I do. But just from what I've read about it, so much of it seemed to be this long difficult project to construct a stable ordered society that restrains people, and the building block of it all is marriage and children and family.
HAIDTAnd so the idea of -- well, if you think about conservatives as social conservatives as it was trying to bind, to build, to tighten things up, and you think about modern liberals as sort of a salve and always trying to loosen things up. We're back to that image of my daughter destroying the tower of my son. So I think that, among many evangelical Christians, especially more rural areas who have a very family-based morality, they've seen the left for so long, arguing that, oh, well, marriage is patriarchy, marriage is not necessarily good for women or children, it's only good for men.
HAIDTSo the left has been ambivalent about marriage for a long time. Needless to say, the religious right sees the secular left -- and part of that is the forces arguing for gay equality. They see the secular left as antithetical to everything they're doing and building, and that, I think, is very different from racism.
REHMAll right. Here is an email from Matt in Plano, Texas, who says, "I'm a practicing Roman Catholic and Hispanic. I attend Mass weekly. The GOP share some of my moral values, but their attitude toward the poor and immigration force me to vote for Democrats. I would never vote for Republican politician until they follow my church's standing on the treatment of the poor, the elderly and immigrants." E.J.
JR.Well, you know, I appreciate that email. I always like to confound people by saying I'm a liberal because I'm a Catholic. And for me, Roman Catholicism has had such a very strong position on questions related to social justice that had a great influence on the way I think, which, by the way, is why I find it very difficult to condemn people I disagree with who happen to have religious convictions that lead them down a different road.
JR.But, you know, in this Public Religion Research Institute survey that I talked about, we actually posed the question to Catholics, giving people two choices that in statements about public policy, the Catholic Church should focus more on social justice and the obligation to help the poor even if it means focusing less on issues like abortion and the right to life. The alternative was the reverse, that the church, Catholic Church should focus more on issues like abortion, the right to life, even if it means focusing less on social justice.
JR.What we found is that overall, by 2-to-1, 60 to 31 percent, Catholic said the church should focus on social justice issues just as that voter is. Among weekly or Catholics who attend church, attend mass weekly or more, you still had -- who are more conservative on the whole, you still had a 51-36 split in favor of social justice. And there is, obviously a big argument going on within the Catholic Church, among Catholics ourselves, over where the balance of the church is public ministry should be.
JR.And I think that one of the important things that's going to happen today is that I have a hunch that the Catholic vote is going to go to President Obama in significant part because Latino-Americans, because their views on social justice and immigration, are going by a margin of three or 4-to-1or two or 3-to-1 at least for President Obama. So I think we're going to continue to have this discussion inside the church after the election.
GERSONI agree that it's -- there's a tension there. I mean many of us have wished that there were political auctions and parties that represented a consistent emphasis on social justice and moral values and order. Many pro-life people, of course, view their commitment as a social justice.
GERSONAnd so there, you know, it's not quite that clear. In the Hispanic community, I will just say that -- yeah, I used to work for Jack Kemp at one point. He always talk about people don't care what you know until they know that you care. And Republicans have blown this issue very, very badly with this community. Mitt Romney has not been particularly responsible on this in two sets of primaries in attacking his opponent and has a lot of work to do with this community.
GERSONIt's interesting, though, that among Latino Catholics, Romney has well, you know, below 25 percent support. Among Latino Evangelicals, he has about 39 percent support in recent polling. Those two groups -- it's a much smaller group, but that group of Latino Evangelicals which is a growing was one of George W. Bush's strongest set of supporters. And so there are some divisions emerging within that very large and diverse community.
REHMAll right. And let's move to New York City with another religious entity. Good morning, A.J.
A.J.How is everyone doing this morning?
REHMJust fine, sir. Go right ahead.
A.J.So my question for the panel was, what were their thoughts on Jewish trends this election cycle? I know anecdotally, I've seen a lot of my friends, my Jewish friends, go a bit more rightward this year. But then again, you know, Jewish vote is usually Democratic. I'll just like to hear their views to the matter.
REHMSure. Jonathan Haidt.
HAIDTWell, speaking as a New York atheist Jew myself, I think this is a great time to bring up the distinction between values, interests and identities and for Jews that has long meant, obviously, the Democratic Party, but especially as that process we've been talking about in which the religions have sometimes been coming together that Michael brought up. The more conservative wings of the religions are coming together to basically fight the more secular wings with -- there are certainly an awful lot of Orthodox Jews who are much more conservative.
HAIDTAnd for them, the vote is based on in part on interests in supporting Israel, and the Republicans have really been pushing that, and I think it had made a stronger appeal that they are, you know, in all circumstances pro-Israel party. So I think the Jews, while they still -- while they've always lean heavily Democratic and will in this election, too, as interests and -- as the Republicans appeal to various interests and values, they are able to split some off. There's a lot of that sort of calculation going on.
JR.Yeah. Jonathan is right that the Orthodox community has been more open to voting Republican -- indeed has voted Republican from what we can gather from the data compared to -- you have a reform or conservative Jews.
REHMYou're saying the Orthodox?
JR.The Orthodox. They are the smallest part of the Jewish community, and they are a growing part of the Jewish community. Barack Obama got 78 percent of the Jewish vote according to the exit polls in the last election. It would not surprise me if he lost a few points from that 78 percent 'cause it's just hard for anybody to win 78 percent of a group consistently. And Jonathan is right. Among some Jews, there is a concern that President Obama has not been as sympathetic to Prime Minister Netanyahu's view of the issues related to the Middle East as they would like.
JR.Nonetheless, I don't think there's any doubt that President Obama will win the vast majority of the Jewish votes today. The question will be, does the margin slip a little bit, or does it slip substantially? I am still -- my sense is that it will slip a little bit but not substantially. But that's dangerous to make a prediction now 'cause I could be proven wrong in about eight hours.
REHMAll right. And here's an email from Ross. He says, "We just voted for President Obama this morning, but I feel compelled to let you know Mitt's religious beliefs were not a factor in our decision." Ironically, he says, "I think the fact that Mormonism is a 'Made in America faith,' one can't help but wonder if the Romney team missed an opportunity by not leveraging Mitt's value system more publicly.
REHM"It seems unthinkable today," he says, "but Catholicism was once considered a cult. I am hoping to one day have an opportunity to consider voting for an atheist, Muslim or a Buddhist candidate for president. Point is, their personal values and positions on issues speaks louder than having or not a popularly accepted faith."
JR.Amen to that.
JR.And I do think that what you've seen in this election is a lot less talk in an interesting way -- I'm not talking about a divisive way but in an interesting way about religious faith. I do think that Mitt Romney might have talked more about what his faith has led him to do. I thought two of the most powerful speakers at the Republican convention were those two fellow Mormons who Mitt Romney had reached out to and helped.
JR.And it presented a picture of him that was very positive. But he is worried about anti-Mormon prejudice. And President Obama has talked less about religion than he did before he became president because of various forms of prejudice directed at him.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here is a tweet from Brenda. It's actually a series of tweets. She says, "I'm a female Mormon. I feel Mitt Romney is a great person, has great morals, however, I have voted for Obama. I may not agree with gay marriage, abortion, as well as other issues, but I know God has given everyone the right to choose for themselves. I know that we all have to suffer the consequences of our choices. If I'm not for gay rights, then I just won't support it. I have that right." How do you respond to that, Michael?
GERSONOh, I think it's a good indication that there is not just diversity between communities. There are often diversity within communities.
GERSONIf Mitt Romney is elected president, his local congregation in Washington, by most accounts, is predominantly Democratic. It's very diverse. He would be in a church that would -- was not, you know, very -- it was not like Salt Lake City in many ways. And that's true in a variety of traditions. You just find those differences. And the Mormon Church has managed to accommodate some of that by being very non-political.
GERSONIf you look at their public statements on religion and other things, there are few exceptions. For the most part, they've tried aggressively not to raise their head above the parapet in large debates. That comes from their history, and it comes from the leadership in Salt Lake City. They're not a politicized faith.
REHMAll right. And finally, to Peterborough, N.H. Hi there, David.
DAVIDHello. I have a question. Please comment on the role of religion behind the three-pronged attack at President Obama, that he is the anti-Christ, a black Muslim and a communist, and this is why he received 10,000 death threats a year.
HAIDTWell, morality binds and blinds. And the more intensely you circle around your group, the crazier you get, the more wiling you are to believe whatever you hear. There's a well-known psychological effect called the confirmation bias. So the angrier you are, the easier it is for you to find confirmation for anything you want to believe.
HAIDTThere's always been a fringe on the right and the left. So there are certainly people out there who believe those things often incompatible things, as the caller points out. Incompatibility is not really a problem for most people if they're angry enough. They can believe any combination of lies even ones that contradict each other.
REHME.J. I'm sorry.
JR.I just think that what the caller says suggests that we cannot write off racism at an attempt to turn Obama into the other, even as we also say that plenty of people are not racist, who are going to vote against President Obama today. And I think the tendency to lump together a whole bunch of alien things and say he must be all of those things is a sign of just trying to make someone an alien. And Peterborough, N.H. is one of the most beautiful towns in America.
HAIDTI love that.
JR.He visited many times during primaries.
REHMLast word, Michael Gerson.
GERSONYou know, I agree. I think we have a problem if we have a society that -- where a part of it views the other as bigots and the other part views as -- them as pagans. It's very hard to have any meaningful political compromise and dialogue in such a society. And the most important antidote to that is to assert that we're a member of a single political community that we have to relay to one another in ways that respect one another's deepest beliefs.
REHMBeautifully said. Thank you.
REHM...syndicated columnist, author of "City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era." E.J. Dionne of The Brookings Institution, author of "Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent." And Jonathan Haidt, he's a social psychologist, author of "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion." Thank you all so much.
JR.Thank you, Diane.
GERSONThank you. (unintelligible)
HAIDTThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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